2019 has been a busy year for legendary guitarist Carlos Santana. In addition to releasing his latest album, Africa Speaks, 2019 marks the 20th anniversary of his landmark Supernatural album and the 50th anniversary of his historic 1969 Woodstock performance. In June 2019, Carlos embarked on a 31-date tour spanning the US and is joined by special guests, The Doobie Brothers. Below we chat with Carlos about this milestone year and his impressive past.
PRS: You’ve had a long, diverse, and successful music career, but how did it all begin? Why did you start playing guitar?
CS: My Dad was a violin player and he taught me the foundation of music through the violin. I saw my dad's eyes when I was 5 years old, and I saw how the people were looking at him. Right there and then I knew that that's all I ever wanted to do and be, is to be adored the way people adored my father in this little town and then later on in Tijuana. But the violin did not speak to me. When I saw that electric band in Tijuana, I knew that the guitar was my calling. I started playing guitar soon after we moved to Tijuana, but the importance of melody, came from my dad and the way he approached playing. That is still with me wherever I go.
PRS: Your newest album Africa Speaks is coming in June and you release new music at an impressive rate, how do you stay inspired?
CS: Cindy & I are always looking for spiritual traction. We know that change is inevitable, and growth is optional. Unless you have willingness to allow willingness, you’re going to be stuck in the mud and you’re going to be miserable. But if you have willingness to allow willingness you can create miracles. So, we continue to strive to create a new masterpiece of joy. While we were releasing “In Search of Mona Lisa”, we were finishing “Africa Speaks”. As “Africa Speaks” is born and released into this world, we are working on Cindy’s new album called “Give the Drummer Some.” It is incredible. For us making music and creating new tapestries of light is natural-normal… We play music as natural as the rain. It has to come into a place to quench the thirst, and there’s a lot of thirsty people out there.
PRS: We’ve read that for Africa Speaks you recorded 49 songs over the course of 10 days, it must have been a tornado of music in the studio, what was your favorite part of this process?
CS: I have been collecting this music for 30-40 years, so by the time we met at Shangri La Studios with Rick Rubin, it was like a massive river in flow. It really feels like this was meant to be … like a gift from heaven to receive and give to the masses. Rick called these songs - “The gateways to people’s consciousness.’” Which really sums up the experience for us creating them. We were part of a conscious flow. We just had to be willing to let it happen, knowing that this incredible music will make a difference in people’s lives.
PRS: You’ve collaborated with a diverse selection of artists and musicians over the years, how do you view the process of collaboration?
CS: When you collaborate, you have to remain open to the other artist or the bands collective heart, hear what they have to say and find a way to complement their message. I’ve been doing it since 68’. It is never a dual or gunfight for me, it’s about complementing the song or the situation. That doesn't mean you can’t get mean and dig in. It all depends on the song, the collaboration and what will best balance the environment we are trying to create. For me, that is the beauty of it.
^ Photo credit: Maryanne Bilham
PRS: What was the most challenging part of your musical career and how did you overcome it?
CS: I look at challenges as learning experiences. They are not failures, but an education on how to be better the next time. So, I have no regrets and I look forward knowing that every day I wake up, put my feet on the floor, I immediately feel a sense of gratitude. I feel a need to express deep appreciation. So, I say thank you ... for another day and I am thankful to be here and to be of service to humanity.
PRS: What will be on your mind as you step on stage this August in Bethel, New York for the 50th Anniversary Woodstock celebration?
CS: Gratitude for everyone and everything that has supported us over the years to step up on that stage and every stage since. By the grace of God, I am still doing what I love. But, in my heart every night, but especially on this night, I treasure the spirit of Mr. Bill Graham who gave us the opportunity to perform on that evening in August of 1969.
PRS: How has your playing or connection with the guitar changed since your legendary 1969 Woodstock performance?
CS: At that monumental event, I was praying that I could stay in time and in tune. Thankfully, I was able to will my way through and the rest is, as they say history. Today, as I have said, I must have spiritual traction and that means in every facet of my life, including my playing. In many ways, I am still the same player. I visit the music and souls of Jimi, B.B, Buddy, Stevie, Otis Rush, Albert King, Wes Montgomery, Grant Green, Gabor Szabo. John Coltrane, Miles and so many others on a nightly basis. I look for hidden gems and melodies and I get inside their hearts and their notes. That inspires me to find my own voice and spark new ideas.
PRS: What piece of advice would you give to young musicians?
CS: Find your own voice and be true, honest, sincere in every note. Learn to get inside the note. Once you get inside the note, you're going to get inside people's hearts.
In the video below, Santana performs "Breaking Down the Door" from his new album Africa Speaks live on Jimmy Kimmel Live.